Bhoodan-Gramdan Movement-50 Years: A Review
By Subhash Mehta
“Perhaps none of Gandhi’s followers, have created so many worshippers of Truth & Non-violence, so many genuine workers as has Vinoba Bhave. In Vinoba, as in very others, thought, speech & action work in harmony, so that Vinoba’s life is like a melodious song”.
MAHADEV DESAI (Gandhi’s intimate co-worker & help-mate)
Vinoba Bhave was one of the great spiritual leaders & reformers of modern India, whose work & personal example moved the hearts of countless Indians. Born in 1895, at the tender age of ten, Vinoba took a vow life-long celibacy & selfless service to others searching for a way of life that would synthesize both spiritual Truth & practical action. Vinoba discovered Gandhi, & joined in Gandhi’s work for the regeneration & freedom of India. As Vinoba himself put it: “I experienced with Gandhi the peace of the Himalayas the revolutionary spirit. Peaceful revolution, revolutionary peace, the two streams united in Gandhi in a way that was altogether new.” Gandhi also wrote to Vinoba’s father, “At a tender age, Vinoba has acquired a degree of spirituality & ascetism that took me years of patient labour.”
In 1940 Gandhi chose Vinoba to be the first Satyagrahi i.e. non-violent resister, to offer non-violent resistance to the British regime. Vinoba’s social ativvism was founded on a lifetime’s study of the other major world religions. Vinoba’s life,reveals the harmony of the inner & outer life of a great man, who had an unwavering commitment to the practice of non-violence, to an engaged spirituality, & to the universal power of love.
After India had independence, Vinoba started out on his extraordinary & unprecedented in recorded history, the Bhoodan (Land-Gift) Movement. Over a period of twenty years, Vinoba walked through the length & breadth of India persuading land-owners & land-lords to give their poor & downtrodden neighbours a total of four million acres of land.
A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BHOODAN-GRAMDAN MOVEMENT
The Bhoodan-Gramdan movement initiated inspired by Vinoba brought Vinoba to the international scene.
In 1951,the Third Annual Sarvodaya Conference was held at Shivarampali, a village a few miles south of the city of Hyderabad in South India. Vinoba was persuaded to leave his community center (Ashram) at Pavnar, near Nagpur & attend the meetings. Vinoba decided to walk three hundred miles to Hyderabad. Telangana had been the scene of violent communist rebellion which was still smouldering in April 1951. For Vinoba the future of India was essentially a contest between the fundamental creeds of Gandhi & Marx. In coming to Hyderabad, Vinoba & other Gandhians were confronting a challenge & testing their faith in non-violence.
On April 11th 1951, the final day of conference, Vinoba announced that on his walk home to Pavanar he & a few companions would tour the Communist infested areas of Telangana to spread the message of Peace i.e. Non-violence. Once in Telangana, Vinoba quickly showed his sensitivity to the new situation. On April 17th, at his second stop, Vinoba learned at first hand that village people were afraid of the police as well as the Communists & that the village was torn along class-lines.
On April 18th 1951, the historic day of the very genesis of the Bhoodan movement, Vinoba entered Nalgonda district, the centre of Communist activity. The organizers had arranged Vinoba’s stay at Pochampalli, a large village with about 700 families, of whom two-thirds were landless. Pochampalli gave Vinoba a warm welcome. Vinoba went to visit the Harijan (the Untouchables) colony. By early afternoon villagers began to gather around Vinoba at Vinoba’s cottage. The Harijans asked for eighty acres of land, forty wet, forty dry for forty families that would be enough. Then Vinoba asked,” If it is not possible to get land from the government, is there not something villagers themselves could do ?” To everyone’s surprise, Ram Chandra Reddy, the local landlord, got up & said in a rather excited voice: “I will give you 100 acres for these people.” At his evening prayer meeting, Ram Chandra Reddy got up & repeated his promise to offer 100 acres of land to the Harijans. This incident neither planned nor imagined was the very genesis of the Bhoodan movement & it made Vinoba think that therein lay the potentiality of solving the land problem of India. This movement later on developed into a village gift or Gramdan movement. This movement was a part of a comprehensive movement for the establishment of a Sarvodaya Society (The Rise of All socio-economic-political order), both in India & outside India.
The movement passed through several stages in regard to both momentum & allied programmes. In October 1951, Vinoba was led to demand fifty million acres of land for the landless from the whole of India by 1957. Thus a personal initiative assumed the form of a mass movement, reminding the people of Gandhi’s mass movements. This was indeed a very remarkable achievement for a constructive work movement. The enthusiasm for the movement lasted till 1957 & thereafter it began to wane.
Meanwhile the Bhoodan Movement had been transformed from a land-gift movement to a village-gift or Gramdan movement, in which the whole or a major part of a village land was to be donated by not less than 75% of the villagers who were required to relinquish their right of owner-ship over their lands in favour of the entire village, with power to equitably redistribute the total land among village’s families with a proviso for revision after some intervals. The Programme of individual land-gifts was still there, but henceforth became a neglected activity.
The Gramdan idea did not prove popular in the non-tribal areas & this partly accounted for the decline of the movement at the end of the 1950s. All this continued till 1974. from the view-point of its ups & downs. But there was another aspect as well & it related to allied programmes unfolded from time to time. Those progammes were Sampattidan (Wealth-gift), Shramdan(Labour-gift), Jeevandan ( Life-long commitment to the movement by co-workers), Shanti-Sena (Peace-army), Sadhandan (gift of implements for agricultural operations).
As regards attitudinal transformation, the propagation of ideas combined with the above material achievements, could not but affect the mind of the thinking people. The movement directly influenced the life-style of the co-workers, especially the life-long co-workers & through them many workers & associates or fellow-seekers. By adopting Gandhi’s ideas to the solution of the basic economic problem of land collection & equitable redistribution among the landless, the Movement kept Gandhi’s ideas of socioeconomic reconstruction alive at a period when the tendency of the educated elite was to overlook, if not to reject Gandhi’s ideas as irrelevant. The Movement kindled interest in the individuals to study Gandhi’s ideas & to assess their relevance. Jayaprakash Narayan, a renowned Marxist, and a Socialist, & one of the fore-most leaders in politics, before & after India’s Independence, came to be more & more intimately associated with the movement & realized that it was a superb endeavor to bring about revolution in human relations founded on on the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence. Ultimately Jayaprakash devoted his entire life to the construction of a Sarvodaya society.
The Movement spontaneously attracted the attention of many fellow-seekers & thinkers from outside India. Louis Fischer, the famous American correspondent said: "Gramdan is the most creative thought coming from the East in recent times”. Hallam Tennyson, the grandson of the famous English poet, Alfred Tennyson, wrote a book, “The Saint on the march”. He narrated his memorable experiences as he moved with Vinoba into rural India. Chester Bowles, the American ambassador to India, observed in his book, ”The dimensions of peace”: We experienced in 1955, the Bhoodan Movement is giving the message of Renaissance in India. It offers a revolutionary alternative to communism, as it is founded on human dignity”. The British Industrialist, Earnest Barder was deeply impressed by the Bhoodan movement & implemented the Gandhian concept of Trusteeship by alloting 90% share in the company to his industrial workers. The British quaker, Donald Groom, trekked with Bhoodan Sarvodaya co-workers for six months in the central India covering a distance of 1400 miles. The American friend Rev. Kaithan turned himself into a Sarvodaya co-worker & established a community centre in South India. David Graham, an English journalist of Sunday Standard, included Vinoba as one of the creative rebels. Arthur Koestler, in 1959 wrote in London Observer, that the Bhoodan Movement presented an Indian alternative to the Nehruvian model of Western development.
To conclude taking an overall view it cannot be gainsaid that the Bhoodan-Gramdan Movement, despite all its real & apparent limitations, it would ever be deemed as a glorious attempt for a peaceful & non-violent solution of the basic land problem of Indian society & through it for a non-violent reconstruction of the Sarvodaya socio-economic-politico order of universal relevance & significance.